Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
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The Girl in the Mirror
Book 3 of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
©2005, ©2011

Chapter 24

October 10, 1998

"That wasnít the end of it, of course," Eve told her classmates. "But it was a good beginning. Again in the interests of time, I think that Iíll condense much of the next ten days. We spent a good deal of time talking, sometimes just John and I, sometimes John with Cheryl, sometimes the three of us. In addition, John showed the good heart and gentle soul he really is by joining me in my efforts to be friendly with the other patients in the hospital. It was a strange holiday. For all the patients there with the exception of Cheryl, it was a very lonely Christmas, of course. But without exception, it was a happy holiday for all of them, Cheryl included, because of the important milestone theyíd passed in their lives. But I have to say it was interacting with the other patients that did more to bring John to understanding the pressures and the pain and the desperation that had brought them to St. Priscillasville in the first place. There were things he could not accept from Cheryl, or from me, that he could accept from talking to the rest of them. That gave him the perspective that could allow him to apply it."

"Itís very difficult to imagine," Scott nodded. "Donít get me wrong, Iím curious about what it would be like to be a woman. If the good fairy were to walk in here right now and say, ĎWant to swap bodies with your wife for the next week?í Iíd take her up on it in a minute . . . "

"And the next week would be spent in bed," Sonja laughed. "At least if I know Scott like I think I do."

There was some laughter around the room. "Not all the time," Scott protested. "But what I was trying to say was that itís one thing to think about looking the other way through the window for a while. Itís something totally different to have to crawl through the window, not really knowing whatís on the other side, and knowing itís a one-way trip. I just canít contemplate doing it."

"There you go," Eve nodded. "Thatís a very good description of the problem that John faced. He had real difficulty jumping the understanding gap, just like you would. From the perspective of one who has crawled through the window and now has looked through it from both sides, it is not an easy decision to make. It took me over two years. It took Cheryl over six. Neither of us regrets the decision, and neither of us would wish to go back to being male if we could.

"Like me, Cheryl was in the hospital for a week, and spent part of another week at a motel in town, reporting to the hospital daily for outpatient work. John and I did all we could to ease her stay, and we of course tried to do what we could for the other outpatients we met. Nevertheless, it was the dead of winter and not a pleasant place to be cooped up in a motel room, so we were happy to have Cheryl released so we could leave.

"I mentioned before that they locked the dorm at Syracuse; so in a sense, we had no place to go, and our plan was at least officially to return to Syracuse and get a motel there until we could return to the dorm. In practice, Iíd planned to stop by Endicott for a brief visit with my sister, and expected sheíd offer to take us in, although she had a new baby in the house at the time. John, however, would have none of it. He was doing his masterís work at Rensselaer Poly and was living in an apartment. Since his roommate Chad was gone for the holidays, he insisted we all go there. It was, as they say, a no-brainer, especially since it was still rather painful for Cheryl to be riding in a car, and it was considerably closer.

"John and Chadís apartment was, if I may be kind, a typical bachelor pad. There was little but beer and hot dogs in the refrigerator; and while I canít call the place a federal disaster area, it was hardly what you would call neat and tidy. However, it was possible to deal with those things, and it was a much more comfortable and friendly place for Cheryl to recuperate than a room in a motel."

January 4, 1994

Perhaps it was the soft sounds of nearly silent crying that struck Eveís subconscious enough to finally wake her. Slowly she came to awareness in the darkened room, early in the morning, wondering if Cheryl was having problems. The couch wasnít the most comfortable place in the apartment to sleep. It was nothing special, rescued from next to a dumpster the year before. It had lumps and a broken spring, but sheíd refused to run John out of his own bed, no matter how much he protested.

Even though it was an apartment, Eve felt comfortable living in something that was more of a residence than a dorm room. It had been a long time since sheíd had that luxury; although the past few months, she and Cheryl had been able to get an occasional taste of it by visiting Susie, not far from Syracuse in Endicott.

Eve had always liked cooking, even back when sheíd been Denis, but there had been little opportunity to do it for years. Though theyíd only been in Albany for a couple days, sheíd made a visit to the grocery store and had been happy while preparing good-tasting meals and not having to depend on restaurant and convenience-store takeouts like theyíd had to do at St. Priscillasville. The apartment was starting to take shape, too; John had been a little embarrassed about it, and sheíd put that to good use.

Best of all, Cheryl was doing well. She was still tender and not getting around much, but she was deep into the heavy dilations. Eve remembered well that it was less than totally comfortable and extremely tedious. She knew that Cheryl also felt the relief and wonder of finally being free of that birth defect that had dogged her all her life and wanted to glory in it. However, the sight of that reality was a little too much for John to take on a regular basis, so more than once sheíd been thankful that it was winter and wandering around bottomless could get somewhat chilly, and it kept Cheryl running around nude to a minimum.

She twisted and turned a little bit, helplessly in denial and wishing to go back to sleep, until finally she knew she couldnít put it off. She threw back the warmth of Johnís sleeping bag, felt on the floor in the darkness for her fuzzy slippers, and thanked herself she was wearing her flannel nightie as she got up and padded toward Cherylís Ė well, Chadís Ė room.

To her relief, it wasnít Cheryl who was almost silently crying. She was sound asleep, and in the light that filtered through the window from the street light outside, Eve could see a slight smile on her face. Perhaps she was dreaming, and if so, it probably was a pleasant dream, she thought.

But that meant it had to be John crying, Eve thought. He had done very well in accepting Cheryl as his sister the past few days, at least so it seemed to her. Heíd been tentative about it at first, finding it new and unexplored territory, and still slipped up once in a while and used the words "Paul," "brother," or "he" and other incorrect pronouns, but not very often, and it was clear to both Cheryl and her that he was trying. Allowing the two of them to be close and heal their wounds together had been a good move, she thought, which was part of the reason sheíd agreed so readily to come here.

Perhaps it was a nightmare, she thought, but realized she should at least investigate. In near silence, she padded into his room and found him lying face down on the bed, sobbing quietly into his pillow. "John?" she said softly, hoping that her slight intrusion on his dreams might push them into a different pattern.

"Eve?" she heard him say back, almost in a whisper.

"Yes," she said, realizing that he hadnít been asleep at all. "John, is everything all right?"

"Eve," he whispered, "Did I fuck it all up?"

"Fuck what up?" she asked gently, going over to sit down on the bed next to him.

"With Paul," he said. "I tried, Eve. I tried to help him, and it just struck me that all I was doing was hurting him, all that time, years." He turned a little, to look in her direction in the darkness. "Eve, I know you never knew Paul very well, back in the old days, back when we hung out at the Mall and went to the prom, and those other places. He . . . he wasnít a happy kid. He didnít often laugh, didnít often smile. Those times . . . those times we spent together with you and Shae were among the happiest I ever saw him. Thatís, well, thatís whatís making me think I fucked up. Eve, even with the pain Cheryl has been going through the last few days, sheís been happier than I ever remember Paul being."

"Iíve seen more of it than you have," she replied. "I mean, living with her the last four months while she was being Cheryl. Sheís had her ups and downs Ė I told you that story of how we met Ė but Cheryl is so different from what I remember of Paul that I have trouble believing it in my own mind. Almost the first observation Shae and I had after the first day we met you at the fair was that he reminded us both a lot of Denis."

"I tried so hard," he sobbed. "Look, you know we caught a lot of shit from our parents. I even had to try to shield him from that. I, uh, when they threw him out, I thought it might even be good for him to not have to deal with them anymore, but, well, I never dreamed he really meant what he said he was going to do. I tried for years to help him, to find something; I even didnít say anything when he experimented with being gay, just because I thought it might help, but I just couldnít believe this was going to work. Now Iím seeing that it looks like it might, and God, Eve, everything I did held him back instead of helping him out."

"It worked out," she said. "Sometimes things have to work themselves out the hard way."

"I know," he said, "And itís been awful damn hard. Eve, do you have any idea of how many times I had to hold him in my arms while he cried himself to sleep?"

"Lots," she said. "She told me."

"Lots," he agreed with a sob. "Now Iím wondering if I did the right thing."

"Of course you did," she smiled. "If you hadnít loved your brother as much as you did, he would never have made it this far."

"Yes," he sobbed, and buried his face in the pillow. "But I should have done better."

"Oh, John," she sighed, "Nobodyís perfect. You did wonderfully with what you had to work with. You comforted him so many times, absorbed all his tears so many times. I admire you for being as strong as you were." Internally, she gave a sigh. She realized now what sheíd have to do. "Donít you know that sheís grateful to the depths of her soul for all of yourself that you gave to her?" she said as she lifted the covers and lay down next to him. "Cry if you have to, John. You never got to cry on his shoulder, you had to be the strong one. And Iíll bet you could never cry on your motherís shoulder, either, right? John, cry on mine, and Iíll be as strong for you as you were for your brother."

"Oh, Eve," he sobbed, as his face found her shoulder, as her arm went around him. "Thank you. Itís . . . itís just been so hard."

"John, just relax," she said warmly. "The worst is over now. You did your best, and you were a success. Now just hold me tight, and Iíll be here for you."

October 10, 1998

"The next morning, Cheryl found us sleeping together, arms around each other," Eve grinned. "Iím still amazed to think that she said nothing more than, ĎAre you two up for some coffee, or do you want to be left alone?í"

"It was a watershed for the both of us," John commented. "I have to be honest and say that even after almost five years thereís still a small part of me that hasnít totally accepted all that happened, but Iím happy with it," he said shyly. "Just as Iíve always had a little residual disbelief that Eve could have ever been Denis. I mean, Iíve always known her as Eve, where I had to accept that Paul was now Cheryl."

The words caused more than a little surprise around the table where the handful of classmates were sitting. Up till this time, John had sat back, let Eve and Shae tell the story, and mostly said very little. Nothing had been said to this point to indicate that he was the John who Eve had just been talking about, the John who had taken the two to the prom long ago. "Youíre . . . that John?" Emily exclaimed.

"Yes, I am," he smiled. "Iím sorry; Iím not good at talking about some of these things, so Iíve just been letting Eve tell the story. I know I was very stressed during that period, even more stressed than Eve let on. But over the next several days, she helped me work out a lot of things Iíd never been able to confront before; not just about me and Paul and Cheryl, but about my parents, the way Iíd approached the world. Before it was all over with, it got very personal, and Cheryl was a part of that. We ironed out some of the problems she had with me, or Paul had with me, however you want to put it. One of the things Iíve gotten used to is the fact that the language doesnít always quite reach to cover the reality."

"Among the things we all had to learn was to put the past behind us and adjust to new realities," Eve smiled. "That was no less true for me than it was for John and Cheryl."

"So that was when the two of you got to going together for real?" Emily asked.

"More or less," John smiled. "One of the things you have to realize is that I was very shy around women at the time; until Eve broke through the shell, much of it that first night when we slept in each othersí arms." He let out a sigh. "Other than the times in high school when Paul and I hung out at the mall with Eve and Shae, and a couple times in college when a mixed group went out for pizza or something, Iíd never had any experience around women. I didnít know what to say, what to do. Eve taught me that it didnít matter that I didnít know the words, because the words are only a carrier for the feelings. I think I can honestly say now that the evening in my apartment was where our romance started, although I donít think either of us totally realized it at the time."

"Of course, around the three of us nothing could ever be quite that simple," Eve grinned. "And it got slightly more complicated."

January 14, 1994

"Home, sweet dorm room," Cheryl sighed from the bed where she lay on her back, laptop computer resting uneasily on her belly on top of the covers. "It seems pretty dull."

"Not much like Johnís apartment, is it?" Eve smiled.

"You know, if it werenít for the fact that Iím still having to dilate and Chad is back now, Iíd be half tempted to hop in the car and go over there," she replied. "I kind of miss him."

"Not surprising," Eve nodded. "I miss him, too."

"Not in quite the same way," Cheryl said dryly. "I mean, heís my brother, after all. Even considering the fact that it doesnít mean anything in real terms, Iíd have trouble being quite that close to him."

"He is very nice," Eve grinned at Cherylís needling. "But I knew that, clear back when he kissed me at the fair that time." She glanced up at the lavender teddy bear that Shae had won and given to her; it had been in her room ever since, wherever sheíd moved. "Those were nice days."

"They were," Cheryl agreed. "I somehow never expected weíd wind up like this. My God, when you stop and think . . . "

Her words were interrupted by a knocking on the door. "Wonder who that could be?" Eve said. "I suppose Iíd better find out. Are you up for company?"

"Yeah, if I donít have to get out of bed."

Eve got up and went to the door, surprised when she opened it, to find John and a strange man standing there. "John!" she said. "What a surprise! We werenít expecting you!"

"Are we going to be in the middle of something?"

"Not really," Eve smiled. "We were just cracking the books, and thinking maybe of sending out for subs or Chinese after Cherylís done resting to celebrate the fact that itís Friday."

"Well, maybe we can take you out to dinner," John smiled.

"Might be," Eve grinned. "Cheryl, any problem if these guys come in?"

"No, come on in, bro," she heard from the bed. Eve stepped back from the door, and John and the other guy came in, closing the door behind them.

As the door closed, Eve took John in her arms for a brief kiss Ė after all, it had been most of a week since theyíd seen each other. He was a little taller than she but just the right height to lean her head back to kiss him. "So, what brings the two of you over here?" she asked.

"Long story," John said. "This is my roommate, Chad. He wanted to come over here today to check out their doctoral program, and I figured itís only two hours, so I might as well come along for the ride. I thought maybe we could stop off and check out how things are going. Chad, this sweet little blonde is Eve."

"So, youíre Eve," Chad grinned. "Iím glad I finally get to meet you. Iíve been hearing about you for years Ė you and that tall friend of yours who wowed everybody at Johnís senior prom."

"Shea is quite good at getting in your eye," Eve grinned. "And staying there. People who meet her rarely forget her."

"I think I remember her," Chad smiled. "My sister played for BGSU when I went there, so I went to some of her games."

"Well, come on in, find a seat," Eve smiled.

The two guys walked into the room, where Cheryl was lying on the bed. John bent over and gave his sister a quick kiss on the lips before he said, "Chad, Iíd like you to meet my sister, Cheryl."

"Hi, Cheryl," he smiled, taking her hand briefly. "You know, youíre even prettier than John said."

"Now I know youíre full of it," she grinned. "Iím lying in bed, my hairís a mess, and youíre already talking sweet."

"All right, so Iím being courteous," Chad nodded. "The truth is that I just had to meet the both of you. For over a year Iíve been hearing John cry in his beer about his brother. Then, I come back from vacation to find the apartmentís been cleaned, thereís real food in the refrigerator, and John is raving about how cool his sister is and how cool and pretty his old girlfriend still is. I figured either something serious happened or else you two had access to some of the weirder drugs on the planet."

"Well, one of them," Cheryl laughed. "Itís amazing what a little horse piss can do to you."

"Yes," Eve said thoughtfully. "You know, that may have had something to do with the way your apartment looked. It really needed a womanís touch. I suppose you have it all messed up again."

"Well . . . weíre trying not to," John sighed. "Itís not easy."

"So, Cheryl," Chad asked, "How are you getting along?"

"Not bad," she said. "Still a little tender, but I can get around. Another couple weeks and everything should be fine. I take it John told you about Eve and me?"

"Oh, yes," Chad nodded. "Well, Eve only since last weekend, but like I said, Iíve been hearing about you for a year or more." He let out a brief sigh. "Look," he said, a little more subdued, "Youíre both probably wondering whatís with this guy and why heís not freaking out on you, right?"

"We have not told a lot of people about what weíve done," Eve said honestly. "But we have experienced a high freakout rate, so we rarely admit it."

"Donít worry about me," he smiled. "I have a gay brother who taught me a long time ago that you do what you have to do to be happy. Cheryl, I spent over a year trying to get that through your brotherís thick skull. Eve, from what I understand, you finally managed. Thank you. Life ought to be a little more peaceful around him now."

"You know, youíre pretty understanding yourself," Cheryl smiled. "I think weíre going to get along just fine."

October 10, 1998

"And they did," Eve smiled. "Being so wrapped up in everything else, John had not, up to that point, mentioned to Cheryl that Chad was studying applied mathematics, although he had a strong interest in theory. It strikes me that right after that the words ĎGoldbachís Conjectureí or ĎFeinsteinís Wild Hairí or something like that came up, John and I were immediately forgotten. It got very thick in there, very quickly, and neither of us had any idea what they were talking about. After all, John was an engineer, and I a mere psychologist. It was with some difficulty that we managed to get them to come up for air and get Chad and John out of the room long enough for Cheryl to get dressed. We all went out to dinner and about wore the toes of our shoes out kicking them in the shins when the topic wandered to mathematics, which happened about every fourth sentence."

"Third," John grinned. "I never saw two people take to each other like they did. Sex or gender didnít matter to either of them. Math did. It was actually a little hard to find something else to talk about, especially since Eve and Cheryl and I had talked about sex and gender all we wanted to for weeks on end. It went very late, and they finally had to run us out of the restaurant. Chad and I headed back to Poly, and all the way he was babbling about what a cool sister I had. Somewhere in there, we worked out a deal for the girls to come over to our place the following weekend. To make a long story short, and we might as well, Eve cooked a nice dinner, we were fairly civil and friendly for a while, and then the math got going again. Finally, Eve and I got so bored we went to bed. We got up in the morning to find the two of them in his room, I presume to keep the noise down, because theyíd sat up all night writing software on his computer to explore some damn theorem or another."

"Because we had studies, we couldnít spend every weekend together," Eve laughed. "We held it to every other weekend. I presume that somewhere in there, nature took its course and they spent the night in his room doing something besides discussing mathematics, because eventually they turned quasi-human on us again, and there was more meaningful communication between the four of us afterwards. When spring break rolled around, we all loaded up in Johnís car and took off for Florida, the first time any of us had been on spring break."

"The amazing thing," John added, "was nowhere in that time do I remember any of us discussing transsexuality, psychology, engineering, or math. It was really pretty weird. Later that spring, Chad, Eve, and I got our masterís degrees, but Cheryl had another year to go because sheíd taken the year off to work and start her RLT. The fact that she was going to be there in Syracuse another year had something to do with Chad deciding to do his doctorate there."

"We spent several weeks that summer in the apartment in Albany, the two couples in a two-bedroom apartment, and somehow it all worked out," Eve said. "The rest of the story is quickly told. John had already determined to do his doctorate at Brown, and I had already been accepted into the program there as well. Originally we were going to get an off-campus apartment, but found that there were attractive vacancies in the on-campus married graduate student housing. However, the administration lacked imagination and flexibility, so in order to live there we had to be married. As we were clearly going in that direction anyway, a few phone calls were made, and our wedding was held at my sisterís house in Endicott. You might recall my sisterís plight in deciding between which of her best friends were going to be her matron of honor, and finally calling on her sister to do the duty so as to not have to select between them? I found it wise to do the same thing, and neither Shae nor Cheryl was upset."

"Shaeís folks and Eveís folks were there," John said. "No one from my side of the family except for Cheryl. They were long past speaking to her by that point, and I pretty much told them that they were invited, but she was going to be there and theyíd better not make a scene. They decided not to come." He let out a sigh. "We have not told them about Eve, of course, and we remain on barely speaking terms, which is fine with me. I think they want to maintain a little contact with Cheryl, but wonít admit it."

"John and I received our doctorates two years later," Eve added. "Iíd already worked out an arrangement with the place Iím affiliated with now, and John was able to get on with a bridge-building company near there. Weíve been living in an apartment while our jobs settle out, but are looking at houses. Weíve become pretty much quiet suburbanite professionals. Chad and Cheryl live in Maryland and work for a company doing some sort of mathematical research. The work is classified, and I donít want to speculate on exactly what it is theyíre supposed to be doing. Earlier this year, my parents retired, and to everyoneís surprise, though they plan to winter in Florida, they bought an old farm cottage north of us in Bucks County as a retirement home. Itís close to Susie in Endicott, John and I in Roslyn, Chad and Cheryl in Baltimore, and Shae in New York, so weíre becoming an extended family of sorts."

"So, you all lived happily ever after," Scott grinned. "Thatís certainly a much more twisted path than normal to get there."

"Happily ever after, at least for now," Eve said. "You never know whatís going to happen, and more has happened to us than to most people."

"John," Vicky said. "I know itís been brought up before, but, well, donít you find something lacking, in spite of everything?"

"Not really," he smiled. "Like I said earlier, I never knew Eve as Denis, always as Eve, just like Chad has always known Cheryl as Cheryl, no matter what I told him. That has something to do with it. But, one more story, and then I think weíd better wrap this up or the manager is going to get an even worse evil eye than heís giving us now. Eve has heard most of this, but an amusing piece of it fell into place tonight. As Eve and I talked about earlier, I was not much of a social butterfly and had little experience with women. After Paul left me, I was a real pain in the butt to Chad, and he suggested I turn over a new leaf and get some experience. Well, I didnít know how to go about it, and I was still a virgin, so I decided that might be a good place to start. After school was out the spring before I met Cheryl and Eve at St. Priscillasville, I took some money that I was later to wish Iíd given to Paul for his SRS fund, and flew out to Las Vegas. I happened to notice a story in the paper that a new brothel was opening that weekend in Antelope Valley . . . "

"Youíre kidding!" Emily gasped.

"No, Iím not," John grinned. "From what I heard tonight, the place has grown quite a bit since then, and this was well before the Learjet, Iím told. Your class valedictorian understandably didnít recognize me tonight, and I didnít identify myself to her. But, she is very competent at her part-time profession, and really knows how to help a man enjoy himself. But you know what? I love my wife so much that the fastest woman in the state of Nevada canít hold a candle to her."

"You still say the sweetest things, John," Eve beamed. "But that may be an original."

"John," Emily said "Itís been good to meet you, and itís been good to see Shae and Eve again. I have to admit, this has been the most unbelievable story I could have imagined. Thank you for sharing it with us. After some of the things that have come out tonight, Iím almost scared to organize another reunion." She let out a sigh and added, "But I can hardly wait to find out, either."

-- 30 --

-- 7:23 PM, 10/31/2005

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